THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Spurred by the first terrorist killing on its soil, the Dutch justice minister said Monday authorities need broader arrest powers to combat a growing threat from Islamic radicals in the Netherlands.
In an Associated Press interview, Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner also suggested the spread of Islamic radicalism is more widespread than the government previously acknowledged.
He said the new laws would empower anti-terrorism investigators to detain suspects without evidence that they may have committed a crime.
“In those cases where we can’t even clearly prove the existence of recruitment or radicalization, but only have a suspicion, we will still use possible administrative powers and other powers to disrupt it as much as possible,” said Donner, the country’s leading terrorism official.
Not only will the laws “make it easier to arrest people,” he said, they will “make it possible to keep people for longer terms without fully revealing information in their dossier.”
In some cases, detentions could last “at least three to four months,” he said.
Although falling short of some measures the U.S. government adopted in the Patriot Act after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Dutch legislation would give authorities some of the most intrusive powers in Europe, an odd counterpoint to its reputation of tolerance on issues such as drugs and euthanasia.
The proposals follow the Nov. 2 slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh, whose latest movie denounced the treatment of women in Muslim countries. An alleged Islamic extremist has been arrested in the slaying.
Van Gogh’s throat was slit, and a note wedged into his chest with a knife threatened “jihad,” or Islamic holy war, against the Netherlands’ “infidel” government.
Donner said other legislation would give him sweeping emergency powers with authority over all other ministries when “necessary for anti-terrorism.”
Fears of terrorism have led to other recent harsh security measures, including requiring citizens over age 13 to carry identity cards and authorizing police to stop and search people with no apparent cause. In addition, rules on wiretapping and monitoring Internet traffic have been loosened.
Donner said authorities have rounded up more than 40 terrorism suspects since Van Gogh’s killing, although several have since been released. Only 17 arrests were previously announced in the case.
The Dutch have had a poor record in convicting suspects charged with terrorist-related offenses. Dozens have been arrested since the Sept. 11 attacks, but only two were convicted in court — after prosecutors won an appeal of their acquittal. The courts have criticized police for sloppy investigations.
But Donner maintained convictions were less important than the disruption of potential terrorist activity. The radicalization of young Muslims in the Netherlands will be a problem for years to come, he added.
“We are now confronted with groups of radicals that have developed internally in the Netherlands,” Donner said. “Many of them are Dutch-born and went to school in the Netherlands and have been living here for 20-30 years.”
About 6 percent of Dutch citizens come from families with origins in Muslim countries, mainly Morocco and Turkey. But it has only been in the last few years that intelligence has pointed to these communities — where poverty and unemployment are higher than the Dutch norm — as a source of disaffected youth vulnerable to the rhetoric of Islamic militants.
Donner said the group is not made up of poor immigrants but “are most often the people who we considered to be most integrated.”
The chief suspect in Van Gogh’s killing, 26-year-old Mohammed Bouyeri, is a Dutch-Moroccan citizen who was captured after a gunbattle with police moments after the attack. A note in his pocket professed his willingness to die as a martyr and said: “These are my last words.”
Investigators say Bouyeri’s Amsterdam home was used for meetings of a cell called the “Hofstad Network,” where a Syrian-born man identified as Redouan al-Issar is believed to have resided and preached. The name “Hofstad” was assigned at random by intelligence services and has no particular meaning, the Justice Ministry said.
Al-Issar was detained by police before Van Gogh’s murder, but released due to insufficient evidence, Donner said. “He became, at a certain moment, the spiritual leader of the group.”
The Hofstad Network follows the ideology of a fundamentalist movement, Takfir wal Hijra, or “Repentance and Flight,” which advocates isolation from what it calls the sinful world. The movement reportedly helped inspire groups like al-Qaida and originated in Egypt in the 1960s.
Donner said the Hofstad Network had been tracked in the Netherlands since 2002 and that al-Issar also had contacts with suspects in the May 2003 suicide bombings in Casablanca that killed 33 people.